Zony Mash
Farewell Shows


A highly individual (and extremely meticulous) composer and keyboard player, Wayne Horvitz became visible in the mid-80s for being a part of the (so-called) New York "Downtown Scene", where musicians like John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Bobby Previte, Elliott Sharp, Butch Morris and Fred Frith worked. Horvitz has worked with some of them many times, just like he did with guitar player Bill Frisell and with pianist, composer and singer Robin Holcomb.

Horvitz is a keyboard player whose style is quite easy to recognize, from the classic Hammond B-3 organ to the Fender Rhodes, from Yamaha's DX7 (a keyboard that's quite difficult to program, he was maybe the only one along with Don Preston to get from this instrument a timbre that was unmistakably his) to the Clavia Nord Lead synthesizer, which is extensively featured in this live recording but is strangely uncredited on the cover (its shape and red colour are quite easy to spot in the cover pictures). Horvitz is also a very personal composer, his melodies - never abrasive, never really difficult - hide a high degree of sophistication.

I got to know Horvitz thanks to the precious source of information that during the eighties was the (New York) New Music Distribution Service catalogue. Quite a few of those albums are still very good, so among those still available I'll mention the electric panorama of Dinner At Eight (1986) and the homage "in the tradition" (but never tired or scholastic) titled Voodoo (1986), released under the name Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet. And if it's true that it was only in time that Horvitz's personality was revealed, it's also true that these two very different albums cover a lot of territory extremely well.

Horvitz is also a versatile sideman - check his many collaborations with saxophone player John Zorn, starting with the Naked City CDs.

There could be many more albums I could mention, for instance Todos Santos (1988) - the album released under Horvitz/Morris/Previte which presented Robin Holcomb's compositions - or the two albums released by the collective name of New York Composers' Orchestra: the first, of the same name, (1990), where a fantastic version of Fever - in parts reminiscent of Grand Wazoo - showed how good Horvitz was as an arranger; and First Program In Standard Time (1992).

I have to confess that at the start of the 90s I had some commercial hopes for Horvitz, though I knew that his being somewhat "mild" would have been an obstacle in a world where stronger, even truculent, colours are rewarded. So I was glad for the Elektra record contract that made it possible the release of two President albums - Bring Yr Camera (1989) and the maybe superior Miracle Mile (1992) - and the first song album of the same name by Robin Holcomb (1990), where Horvitz played and which he produced. Those albums fully revealed other aspects of his musical personality (logically enough, given his age), where his love for the jazz avant-garde (of all ages) went hand-in-hand with his love for electric Miles, early Weather Report, Grateful Dead, The Band and those concerts at The Fillmore (it's useful reflecting on the similarities between some "psychedelic" pages by Horvitz and some pages by Henry Kaiser - among them, his homage titled Yo! Miles). No nostalgia, by the way.

Horvitz left New York for Seattle, a place where theatre and ballet offer the possibility to avoid musical compromises. Which doesn't mean this is Horvitz's main occupation! In fact, he has started line-ups such as Zony Mash, Pigpen, 4+1 Ensemble, Ponga, Sweeter Than The Day, besides collaborating with Robin Holcomb. (I'd like to mention his production of Highspotparadox, by Hughscore, from 1997.)

Zony Mash is his electric quartet (the group got its name from a song by The Meters). Three studio albums: Cold Spell (1997), Brand Spankin' New (1998) and Upper Egypt (2000) - I'd say the most recent one is a good introduction - and a live one, titled Live In Seattle (2002). An agile line-up where guitar, bass and drums are added to the leader's keyboards. A line-up that maybe is at its best in a live situation. Farewell Concerts presents the last two concerts by the group - Seattle, 12 and 13 December, 2003. Nicely recorded, 2h. 40' long, not expensive, this sets makes you forgive the fact that there are no liner notes! (You can find them on Horvitz's website - they're good, too.)

The music is agile, very entertaining and more various than what is apparent at first, though I have to confess that I have to disagree with Horvitz when he says "I think Zony Mash is the logical extension of The President, which is what I was doing 10 or 15 years ago", the previous line-up being more ambitious (in my opinion the real problem being what is feasible today).

Two themes by Zorn (Sex Fiend and Triggerfingers), a few by guitar player Tim Young round up the picture. FYI is a good introduction, the following track, Diggin Bones by Young, already shows very interesting things, quite different from a "jam-band" format. (I've read Horvitz saying he doesn't like the term "fusion" being used when referring to this group, but I think there's nothing to fear, since the few times when I could use this term - say, a propos of the track Rip Off - it's "fusion" of the Carla Bley's extroverted Dinner Music variety, so...) Easy offers a beautiful and delicate performance, Let's Get Mashed is typically angular, Smiles is a nice detour in different climates, The Last Song features a nice synth solo, I'm Sorry deals with the blues.

The second CD doesn't start so brilliantly, the Zony Mash/Slide By medley being a bit too hesitant (the album mirrors the real dynamics of a real concert, down to those instances where the playing doesn't gel), then we get the funk of Rip Off and the track Capricious Midnight from the Sweeter Than The Day repertory. Here the CD lifts off, with the eighteen minutes of the Beatles-flavoured Prudence RSVP, which is followed by Brand Spankin' New and Spice Rack, the extrovert concert conclusion.

The rhythm section - Andy Roth on drums, Keith Lowe on electric and acoustic bass - is quite good. My only criticism of this otherwise excellent album is that the real transcendental moments - those that Phish seem to produce with a certain regularity - are few. But this would be a very complex line of reasoning. Maybe next time.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2004

CloudsandClocks.net | May 9, 2004